- Between 300,000 and 400,000 U.S. children are victims of the sex trade each year, from juvenile pornography and street prostitution to selling sex at school, according to a university study released Monday that tracked children in 17 major U.S. cities.
- We never, at the beginning of the study, thought we would encounter so many children in this predicament.’ – RICHARD ESTES University of Pennsylvania
- “CHILD SEXUAL exploitation is the most hidden form of child abuse in the U.S. and North America today. It is the nation’s least recognized epidemic,” Richard Estes, a University of Pennsylvania professor of social work and co-author of the report, said in a statement announcing the study.
- Based on field research, interviews and surveys from 288 federal and local agencies, the study estimated that 300,000 to 400,000 children in America were victims of sexual exploitation each year. That’s 1 of every 100 children in the country.
- “That figure just blew our minds. We never, at the beginning of the study, thought we would encounter so many children in this predicament,” Estes told Reuters.
- AS MANY BOYS AS GIRLS
- Estes and his team visited 17 U.S. cities over two years, meeting with federal and local law enforcement agencies, human services departments and hundreds of children both living at home and on the streets.
- Contrary to popular belief, as many boys as girls were affected, but Estes said boys got less attention both from law enforcement and social services because of the view that they could look after themselves.
- “Every place we went, we found for every girl there was a boy involved too. People feel a need to protect girls, and for boys it’s thought of as sowing their oats,” said Estes, adding some boys graduated from their years of sexual servitude to become pimps.
- Most of the children in the study were white youths who had run away from middle-class homes. Less than a quarter of the children in the report were from impoverished homes, Estes said.
- SURVIVAL SEX ON THE STREETS
- The largest groups of children affected were runaway, “throwaway” and homeless youths, many of whom used “survival sex” to acquire food, shelter, clothing and other things needed to eke out a living on America’s streets, Estes said.
- “Like other groups of sexually exploited persons, street children are exposed to violence, drug abuse, rape and, sometimes, even murder at the hands of the pimps, ‘customers’ and traffickers that make up their world.”
- Estes said some children sold themselves for sex to high school students while living at home and used the money to buy drugs, expensive clothes and other consumer goods.
- Many of these children lived in secure middle-class homes, and few parents were aware of what was going on. This group also included U.S. youths who crossed into Canada or Mexico in search of cheaper drugs, alcohol and sex, Estes said.
- OTHER FINDINGS
- The study pointed out other trends as well, among them: 95 percent of the commercial sex that boys engaged in was with men.
- At least 25 percent of girls in gangs had sex with other members as part of the gang rites.
- Married men who have children of their own are one of the most common customers who pay children for sex.
- The sexual exploitation of children affected all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, although children from poorer families appeared to be at a higher risk.
- Strangers committed fewer than 4 percent of all the sexual assaults against children.
- Estes said a disproportionate number of street youths had histories of recurrent physical or sexual abuse at home and took to the streets in a bid to stop this.
- “It is ironic that running away from home increases their risk of physical violence and sexual abuse,” he said.
- MEXICO, CANADA ALSO STUDIED
- The study – titled “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico” – was undertaken by the Center for the Study of Youth Policy, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work.
- The results for Canada were not yet available, while the section on Mexico, compiled last year, concluded that at least 16,000 children in the country are sexually exploited.
- The study noted that some exploitation was among immigrant communities, with both organized gangs and individuals bringing children illegally into the country.
- “The situation in the U.S. must be understood within the broader content of child sexual exploitation occurring throughout both the North American region and the rest of the world,” Estes said. “Only through such understanding will the U.S. be able to act decisively in protecting her children from such heinous abuse.”
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